Long snapper is not the most glamorous position on a football team, but it’s arguably one of the most important.
Similar to an offensive lineman or a middle reliever in baseball, their duties are usually taken for granted and the players remain nameless, unless something bad happens — or you are talking about Hayden Grover.
The Spencer-Van Etten senior displayed perfection on all 48 of his snaps last season, garnering attention from several Division I college programs before verbally committing to the University of Akron over the summer.
“In New York there are not a lot of good long snappers, and games can be won and lost by them,” said Grover, whose team won two games last season with the help of a botched snap by an opponent. “It’s not easy but I have learned to handle the pressure — you can snap a ball just fine but can you do it when you have fans screaming at you?”
Grover always had the skill to snap the ball with a tight spin, but it was not until a camp at Utica College three years ago when he realized it could lead to big opportunities.
“I used to go to the side of my Dad’s office, set up a chair, and snap a ball to the chair,” said Grover, who credits his father, Jeff, for standing 15 yards behind him receiving snaps late into many nights. “Following the camp we looked into it more and saw it could lead to college scholarships.”
Grover began training specifically for long snapping shortly after the camp, giving up baseball and basketball after his sophomore season. He began training year round at an indoor facility in Lansing, working on snapping and getting down the field quickly.
Grover can sometimes be seen at practice knocking down water bottles set up yards away on a bench like a kid shooting action figures with a BB gun. He’s also been known to snap a ball to a streaking wide receiver mid-route.
“He works real hard to be a good snapper,” Spencer-Van Etten coach Ron Miller said. “He’s the best snapper I’ve ever had. Hopefully he continues his good snapping.
“We work on it every day at practice. You can’t overlook your special teams. Every single day we do that.”
Grover garnered attention at several offseason camps. He was named Top High School Snapper at Hammer Kicking Academy’s Elite Camp in June, Top Snapper at Special Teams Solutions College Prospect Showcase last year, and won the Snap Challenge last year at Kohl’s Spring Regional Showcase at Kean University.
Kohl’s Kicking Camps are highly regarded and have produced several current National Football League players, including Buffalo Bills kicker Dustin Hopkins and Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee.
After garnering attention from Cornell University, James Madison University and other Division I programs, he settled on Akron and coach Terry Bowden, son of legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.
“I’ve seen bad snaps in college, and it’s a reassurance for me because I know I can make that snap,” Grover said. “The offer from Akron was surreal and it’s gotten to the point I know I belong where I’m going. I’m going to do it four years and do it the best I can.”
While Grover excels on the field, he is equally adept in the classroom. He carries a 3.50 grade-point average and was inducted into the National Honor Society in 2012. He also has a passion for music and hopes to focus on music education and religion at Akron.
“At an early age I was always surrounded by music,” said Grover, who plays trombone in the high school jazz band and participates in the school choir. “My aunt played trumpet, my uncle currently works with smaller Christian artists — I’ve always sort have been surrounded by it. Music found a way into my life.
“My parents have really embraced my passion for music and have helped me in every way to be a better performer.”
While the thought of long snapping professionally has crossed his mind, Grover says education is his primary focus.
“Quite honestly my friends think of it more than I do,” Grover said of any NFL aspirations. “The most important thing is I’m going to college to be a student. Student comes first in student-athlete.
“My goal was the best college at the best price, and we found that. The pros are a longshot and right now my focus is on going to Akron and performing my best.”
Spencer-Van Etten started the season with two straight victories. A two-year captain, Grover made the switch from guard to tackle this season on the offensive line. “I want to take advantage of his speed and athleticism,” Miller said. “I’m trying to use his legs as much as possible.”
“The last two years I’ve become very well educated on formations on everything, so moving from one position to another isn’t a problem,” Grover said. “I think it all comes down to the support of my family. They have always told me, ‘if you are going to do something, you do it 100 percent.’
“I have been very fortunate to have their support and excited to see where it takes me.”